Paul McNamara quotes me extensively in this piece on the EFF protest of Goodmail. When I say "the EFF has lost its mind", i really mean "the EFF has lost its way". In the early days, the EFF was about preventing the government from ruining the Internet commons, and preventing the government from putting walls on the frontier. These days, the EFF is more about preventing companies who have no power to regulate from doing things the EFF doesn't like. That is a huge change, and one that makes the EFF much less worthy of support.
The Goodmail case is a great example. What Goodmail is doing could lead to worse mail experience for people using the mail services of its partners. The result is those users will stop using those services. AOL has been seeing a steady decline in users for years for this very reason: email is particularly sensitive for novice users, and AOL's email is unpredictable, particularly with small mailing lists. AOL regularly shuts off access to legitimate mailing lists, and many mailing list managers now have a form letter ready for AOL users who complain to them. The letters usually say "dump AOL", although some letters more helpfully say "get a free email account at Gmail or Yahoo or MSN and subscribe to this list from there". Either way, the user sees that the experts think that AOL is a bad system. If AOL starts losing more mail due to filter refactoring if Goodmail gets popular, even more users will flee.
Yahoo appears to be taking a more cautious approach, which may be why they're doing much better than AOL. Yahoo is going to wait for AOL to make the mistakes before they start using Goodmail, and Yahoo is already saying that they mostly want to use it to mark bills and invoices sent through email as legitimate. The result will be fewer pissed-off users, and that's a good thing.
What I said to Paul about Atom is true. Many of us see blogs as just the first driver for everyone to be able to read syndicated feeds on their computers. The next major wave of syndication will be one-way business communications, some of them personalized. Do you want ads from legitimate dealers of some hobby you have? No problem. Do you want notices from your bank when your online statement is ready? No problem, and the feed will be fully legitimate. If we're lucky, it will even be digitally signed, and possibly encrypted (although that will probably take years to get right). There is lots of room for creative growth for syndication, and having a standard like Atom will help lay the foundation for it.
If MoveOn and other organizations want more assuredness of delivery of their message, they should be sending their message in channels that don't have spam.
Update: Richi Jennings at Ferris Research has an orthogonal take on the issue. "There are some quasi-political and religious groups emailing indiscriminately, and hiding under the flag of Free Speech. "
Update: One of the few voices of sanity on this topic from the non-profit sector: the Center for Democracy and Technology. "However, CDT has a very different reading of the facts surrounding this controversy. CDT does not believe the service will harm the ability of non-paying senders to deliver messages to AOL customers."